Wisconsin Newspapers Should Publish Local Government Minutes And Actions

In my mind I can still see Dad combing through the Waushara Argus, our local newspaper, to find the notices concerning local government. Having served on the Hancock Town Board for 40 years he always wanted to make sure the notices about an upcoming meeting or election were printed correctly, and the minutes of meetings along with the decisions taken to have visibility.

Why Dad flipped the pages of those papers was due to the fact he wanted to make sure the work of local government was published, and thereby publicized, so citizens could add their voice and input to the concerns of the day.  He also desired they be kept abreast of how local government functioned.  He knew informed citizens made for contented voters.

I note that memory of mine because Senate Bill 55 would allow for local units of governments to decide if they wished to continue to publish meeting minutes in newspapers. They instead could opt for placing all such material on their websites. I have not seen the fiscal note attached to the proposed legislation but one can correctly assume the ‘cost-saving’ in dollars would not compare to the loss of providing information to the local constituents.

Living in Madison, even with decades removed from my home area, I still enjoy reading the minutes from the county board.   I want to know what is taking place with the school districts and towns that dot the area where I grew up.  One of the main reasons I subscribe to the paper, the one dad read those many years ago, is to be informed on matters about local governments.  That information is made public via the very notices SB 55 now wishes to limit.

I live in a tech-savvy world.  I blog and podcast but my day always begin with printed newspapers to get current with the world and events just around the corner. In small towns and villages around this state folks who desire to get information about the places they live turn to their hometown papers. That fact, along with the continued call for openness and transparency in government from a most unsettled electorate, makes this bill a non-starter.

I readily admit my love for newspapers and my deep respect for journalists who write the copy.  Some might then think my underlying motive for this matter has to do with the health of an industry that has suffered in the digital age.  While I do have concerns about the future of newspapers I also carry with me the foundations of good local government—which means transparency–from dad.

I know people don’t routinely go browsing through official government web sites because they have nothing better to do.  But I do know folks still browse all the way through locally printed newspapers.  I also know many of the folks back in my hometown area don’t have computers but still wish to be informed about local government.  Those are the ones–and all the others just like them spread around the state–who the legislature needs to be mindful of when they deal with this matter.

Senate Bill 55 should never see the light of day.